Astad Deboo took workshops for the Theatre Academy, Pune in the 1970s and then, when I joined the Lalit Kala Kendra, he also conducted a workshop there. I cannot analyse him as a dancer, but he was a very innovative choreographer, who worked throughout the country and abroad with masters like Pina Bausch and Pink Floyd. He collaborated with world class dance Gurukuls like Martha Graham Centre for Contemporary Dance.
He mastered many Indian classical dance forms like Kathak of north and Kathakali of the south. He worked with many groups, including with special-needs people. He was a kind of a force of art, who worked, not only in Mumbai and Pune, but also in Kolkata and Delhi, among others.
He was a pioneering modern dancer in India, post-Independence.
He was a classically-trained dancer of Kathak and learnt a number of other performance styles of India, from Manipuri to Koodiyattam. He knew these performance grammars and history almost by heart and used several dance styles to create his own. He used to take up particular themes and work on those with A-grade international dancers as well as young people.
Astad Deboo was as fine a person as he was an artiste. I found him very imaginative and humble as well as being strictly disciplined. He would start everything on schedule. I saw how he worked with dancers to enhance their skills and understand his style, and with theatre people to make them aware of their bodies — usually a lot of theatre people are not aware of their bodies. It was very helpful for theatre people to undergo his workshops and understand how they could use their bodies in the theatre space.
Astad Deboo and I were on several committees, including the selection committee of the National School of Drama, Delhi. We were staying together at the India International Centre for 15 days and he would wake up early, go for a walk and exercise. He had a well-developed fitness streak. He was a great thinker and was very articulate as a person. He used to work on his pieces for years together and only then would he come out with it.
There are very few artistes who do homework of this magnitude. He was a great collaborator and has worked with almost every dance style, making him the master of doing the body choreography in any space. You would also see that he would take something and present it in the Indian context.
He came and saw most of our plays, such as Ghasiram Kotwal and Begum Barve, in Mumbai and Pune. We have lost a great soul.
(As told to Dipanita Nath)
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